What is a sprain?

A sprain is the tearing of ligaments at a joint.

Mild sprains may swell but usually heal quickly. The person might not feel much pain and is active again soon.

If a person ignores the signs of swelling and pain and becomes active too soon, the joint will not heal properly and will remain weak. There is a good chance that it will become re-injured, only this time more severely.

A severe sprain also can involve a fracture or dislocation of the bones at the joint. The joints most easily injured are at the ankle, knee, wrist, and fingers.

A sprain is an injury that happens when a ligament is stretched or torn. Ligaments are the fibers that connect your bones to one another within a joint. Sprains are usually caused when you force a joint into a painful and harmful position. The most commonly-sprained joints are ankles, knees, wrists, and thumbs. Many times, a sprain causes pain and swelling in the affected area.

A sprain is an injury to connective tissue that is designed to protect and stabilize joints, such as ligaments and capsules. The injury is caused when the joint is moved beyond the normal limits of the joint. This often occurs in forceful twisting motions such as rolling an ankle when stepping off of a curb. The most commonly sprained joints are the ankle, knee and shoulder.

Ankle sprains have various degrees of severity, from Grade 1 to Grade 3. A Grade 1 sprain has small micro trauma to the joint and will usually be accompanied with little pain and very mild swelling. A Grade 2 sprain is when the connective tissue is stretched or partially torn. This type of sprain will have pain accompanied with mild to moderate swelling, and possible bruising. Grade 3 sprains are very severe as they involve complete rupture of the ligament or connective tissue. Individuals suffering from a Grade 3 sprain will have loss of function, moderate to severe swelling, and bruising. Often, Grade 3 sprains require surgery or immobilization.

 Dr. Kathleen Handal, MD
Emergency Medicine

Bone, joint and muscle injuries are common, especially among athletes and the elderly. It can be difficult to determine if an injury is a fracture, sprain, or strain so treat all injuries as severe until proven otherwise. Sprains occur at joints from a twisting injury which causes ligament(s) to partially or completely tear or overstretch. An x-ray may be needed to determine if a fracture or sprain exists. Treat as a Fracture until confirmed.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.